Soviet Russia: 1917-1933

Soviet Russia: 1917-1933

Soviet Russia: 1917-1933

Soviet Russia: 1917-1933

Excerpt

The bolshevik revolution of 1917, which brought the Soviet government to power, was precipitated by forces deeply rooted in Russian history. Russia had entered the twentieth century as a backward agrarian country which had just begun to experience the effects of an industrial development financed largely by foreign capital. The establishment of new industries was accompanied by the rise of an industrial proletariat which numbered some three million by 1917, and was in so precarious an economic position that, in the words of Karl Marx, it "had nothing to lose but its chains." The peasants, emancipated in 1861, had received insufficient allotments of land, and for the most part had failed to develop the sense of private property which characterizes the conservative peasantry in Western countries; revolutionists at heart, they impatiently awaited the day when they might expropriate the landlords.

Nor had Russia developed a strong conservative middle class which might have served as a bulwark against revolution. The lower bourgeoisie and intellectuals had long opposed both the monarchy and the Orthodox Church, and constantly engaged in revolutionary activities directed at the establishment of political democracy. An intellectual minority distinguished for achievements in literature and art failed to leaven the population of a country which was 60 per cent illiterate, and whose ignorance was regarded by the government as a guarantee against violent revolt. Finally, the diverse nationalities composing the Tsarist Empire, held together only by a ruthless policy of Russification, nurtured dreams of political autonomy and constituted a potential source of danger to the Tsarist régime. A political system undermined by so many internal conflicts and contradictions could not well survive the disrupting effects of the World War.

THE BOLSHEVIK COUP D'ETAT

The overthrow of Tsarism in March 1917 was followed by the establishment of a provisional government representing the more liberal bourgeoisie and intellectuals, who vainly attempted to introduce constitutional forms and practices in a country subjected for centuries to autocracy. The provisional government, confronted by growing un-

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